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A guide to COVID-19 and the warehouse in 2020


A complete, up-to-date guide to safe working in warehouses during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, in line with the UK Government's advice.



COVID-19 What the changes are.jpgCOVID-19 What the Government says.jpgCOVID-19 What others are doing .jpgCOVID-19.jpg

What the changes are

The COVID-19 pandemic has already changed the warehouse environment, and will continue to do so for the remainder of 2020 and beyond. Here's how, according to Prof John Manners-Bell, chief executive of Ti:

  • Lean to higher inventory - an economic downturn will mean fewer volumes overall in the short term, but the metric of inventory to economic activity will rise.
  • In-house to 3PL - manufacturers and retailers will be more likely to regard large numbers of warehousing staff on their payroll as a risk as much as an asset, especially with the ever present possibility that Coronavirus may return at some point. Many may be tempted to believe that this is a challenge it would be better for a third party logistics provider to deal with.
  • Dedicated to multi-user - The new market environment will require greater levels of flexibility which allow manufacturers and retailers to ‘plug’ into existing warehousing operations.
  • Long term to shorter term logistics contracts - 3-10 year contracts may be satisfactory in a stable economy, but such a model will leave companies exposed to the risk of having too much (or too little) inventory as well as warehousing capacity located in the wrong markets. 
  • Growth of on-demand warehousing - Allowing the visibility to store inventory in multiple locations across a wider warehousing network.
  • Low inventory to availability of product - The growing priority for availability of product (as opposed to the minimization of inventory) has not been caused by Coronavirus, but it will be accelerated.
  • Increase in specific e-commerce/omnichannel facilities - Coronavirus has helped to accelerate e-commerce sales.
  • Global/regional to national/local - Politicians to call for the re-shoring of the production of essential goods (such as PPE and medicines).
  • From centralised to fragmented - Not without its risks, centralisation of warehousing has many benefits, not least the reduction of the overall inventory requirement within a supply chain by reducing levels of safety (buffer) stock required in individual distribution centres.
  • Increasing automation - An already existent trend that will increase in pace this year.
  • More green warehousing - Following the crisis, there will be a renewed focus on sustainability.

UK Government Advice

The 32 page document 'Working safely during COVID-19 in factories, plants and warehouses' was published on 11 May as guidance for employers, employees and the self-employed. It contains information on risk, who should go to work, social distancing, PPE, the management of customers, visitors & contractors, cleaning the workplace, workforce management and Inbound & outbound goods.

The following are key points for warehouse operators taken from the guidelines. Download the government's safety document in full here:

Managing risk

Employers have a duty to reduce workplace risk to the lowest reasonably practicable level by taking preventative measures. Employers must work with any other employers or contractors sharing the workplace so that everybody's health and safety is protected. In the context of COVID-19 this means working through these steps in order:

  • In every workplace, increasing the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning.
  • Businesses and workplaces should make every reasonable effort to enable working from home as a first option. Where working from home is not possible, workplaces should make every reasonable effort to comply with the social distancing guidelines set out by the government (keeping people 2m apart wherever possible).
  • Where the social distancing guidelines cannot be followed in full, in relation to a particular activity, businesses should consider whether that activity needs to continue for the business to operate, and if so, take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission between their staff.
  • Further mitigating actions include:
  • Increasing the frequency of hand washing and surface cleaning.
  • Keeping the activity time involved as short as possible.
  • Using screens or barriers to separate people from each other.
  • Using back-to-back or side-to-side working (rather than face-to-face) whenever possible.
  • Reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using ‘fixed teams or partnering’ (so each person works with only a few others).
  • Finally, if people must work face-to-face for a sustained period with more than a small group of fixed partners, then you will need to assess whether the activity can safely go ahead. No one is obliged to work in an unsafe work environment.
  • In your assessment you should have particular regard to whether the people doing the work are especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

Download the government's safety document here:

Who should go to work

Some of the steps that will usually be needed:

  • Consider who is essential to be on site; for example, office staff should work from home if at all possible.
  • Planning for the minimum number of people needed on site to operate safely and effectively. 
  • Monitoring the well-being of people who are working from home and helping them stay connected to the rest of the workforce, especially if the majority of their colleagues are on-site.

Protecting people who are at higher risk

Some of the steps that will usually be needed:

  • Clinically vulnerable individuals, who are at higher risk of severe illness (for example, people with some pre-existing conditions) have been asked to take extra care in observing social distancing and should be helped to work from home, either in their current role or in an alternative role. 
  • If clinically vulnerable (but not extremely clinically vulnerable) individuals cannot work from home, they should be offered the option of the safest available on-site roles, enabling them to stay 2m away from others. If they have to spend time within 2m of others, you should carefully assess whether this involves an acceptable level of risk. 

Download the government's safety document here.

People who need to self isolate

Some of the steps that will usually be needed:

  • Employers must observe current guidance for people who have symptoms and those who live with others who have symptoms.
  • If you live alone and you have symptoms of coronavirus illness (COVID-19), however mild, stay at home for 7 days from when your symptoms started. 
  • After 7 days, if you do not have a high temperature, you do not need to continue to self-isolate. If you still have a high temperature, keep self-isolating until your temperature returns to normal. You do not need to self-isolate if you just have a cough after 7 days, as a cough can last for several weeks after the infection has gone
  • If you live with others and you are the first in the household to have symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19), then you must stay at home for 7 days, but all other household members who remain well must stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days. The 14-day period starts from the day when the first person in the house became ill. 

Equality in the workplace 

It is breaking the law to discriminate, directly or indirectly, against anyone because of a protected characteristic such as age, sex or disability.

Some of the steps that will usually be needed:

  • Understanding and taking into account the particular circumstances of those with different protected characteristics.
  • Involving and communicating appropriately with workers whose protected characteristics might either expose them to a different degree of risk, or might make any steps you are thinking about inappropriate or challenging for them.
  • Considering whether you need to put in place any particular measures or adjustments to take account of your duties under the equalities legislation. 


Social distancing at work

Some of the steps that will usually be needed:

  • You must maintain social distancing in the workplace wherever possible.
  • Where the social distancing guidelines cannot be followed in full in relation to a particular activity, businesses should consider whether that activity needs to continue for the business to operate, and, if so, take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission between their staff. Mitigating actions include:
    • Further increasing the frequency of hand washing and surface cleaning.
    • Keeping the activity time involved as short as possible.
    • Using screens or barriers to separate people from each other.
    • Using back-to-back or side-to-side working (rather than faceto-face) whenever possible.
    • Reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using ‘fixed teams or partnering’ (so each person works with only a few others).
    • Social distancing applies to all parts of a business, not just the place where people spend most of their time, but also entrances and exits, break rooms and canteens and similar settings. These are often the most challenging areas to maintain social distancing. 

Coming to work and leaving work

Some of the steps that will usually be needed:

  • Staggering arrival and departure times at work to reduce crowding into and out of the workplace, taking account of the impact on those with protected characteristics.
  • Providing additional parking or facilities such as bikeracks to help people walk, run, or cycle to work where possible.
  • Limiting passengers in corporate vehicles, for example, work minibuses. This could include leaving seats empty.
  • Reducing congestion, for example, by having more entry points to the workplace.
  • Using markings and introducing one-way flow at entry and exit points. 

Download the government's safety document here:

Moving around buildings and worksites

Some of the steps that will usually be needed:

  • Reducing movement by discouraging non-essential trips within buildings and sites, for example, restricting access to some areas, encouraging use of radios or telephones, where permitted, and cleaning them between use.
  • Reducing job and equipment rotation.
  • Introducing more one-way flow through buildings.
  • Reducing maximum occupancy for lifts, providing hand sanitiser for the operation of lifts, and encouraging use of stairs wherever possible.
  • Making sure that people with disabilities are able to access lifts.
  • Reducing occupancy of vehicles used for onsite travel, for example, shuttle buses.

Workplaces and workstations

Some of the steps that will usually be needed:

  • Reviewing layouts, line set-ups or processes to allow people to work further apart from each other.
  • Using floor tape or paint to mark areas to help workers keep to a 2m distance.
  • Only where it is not possible to move workstations further apart, arranging people to work side by side or facing away from each other rather than face-to-face.
  • Only where it is not possible to move workstations further apart, installing screens to separate people from one another.
  • Using a consistent pairing system if people have  to work in close proximity, for example, during twoperson working, lifting or maintenance activities that
  • cannot be redesigned.

Take a look at editor Kirsty Adams' interview with Combilift’s Martin McVicar for a more detailed example of introducing safety measures, including the ever-important issues around fork lift safety.

foam cupsCommon areas

Some of the steps that will usually be needed:

  • Staggering break times to reduce pressure on break rooms or places to eat.
  • Using safe outside areas for breaks.
  • Creating additional space by using other parts of the worksite or building that have been freed up by remote working.
  • Using protective screening for staff in receptions or similar areas.
  • Providing packaged meals or similar to avoid opening staff canteens, where possible. 

Managing your customers, visitors and contractors

Some of the steps that will usually be needed:

  • Encouraging visits via remote connection or remote working for visitors where this is an option.
  • Limiting the number of visitors at any one time.
  • Determining if schedules fo'r essential services and contractor visits can be revised to reduce interaction and overlap between people, for example, carrying out services at night.
  • Maintaining a record of all visitors, if this is practical. 
  • Providing clear guidance on social distancing and hygiene to people, for example, inbound delivery drivers or safety critical visitors, on arrival, for example, signage, visual aids, and before arrival, for example, by phone, on the website, by email.
  • Establishing host responsibilities relating to COVID-19, providing any necessary training for people who act as hosts for visitors.
  • Reviewing entry and exit routes for visitors and contractors to minimise contact with other people.
  • Coordinating and cooperating with other occupiers for those working in facilities shared with other businesses including with landlords and other tenants. 

Cleaning the workplace 

Some of the steps that will usually be needed:

  • Checking whether you need to service or adjust ventilation systems, for example, so that they do not automatically reduce ventilation levels due to lower than normal occupancy
  • levels.
  • Most air conditioning systems do not need adjustment, however where systems serve multiple buildings or you are unsure, advice should be sought from your heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) engineers or advisers.
  • Positive pressure systems can operate as normal.
  • Frequent cleaning of work areas and equipment between uses, using your usual cleaning products.
  • Frequent cleaning of objects and surfaces that are touched regularly, such as door handles, pump handles and printers, and making sure there are adequate disposal arrangements.
  • Clearing workspaces and removing waste and belongings from the work area at the end of a shift. 

Hygiene – handwashing, sanitation facilities and toilets

Some of the steps that will usually be needed:

  • Using signs and posters to build awareness of good handwashing technique, the need to increase handwashing frequency, avoid touching your face and the need to cough or sneeze into a tissue which is binned safely, or into your arm if a tissue is not available.
  • Providing regular reminders and signage to maintain hygiene standards.
  • Providing hand sanitiser in multiple locations in addition to washrooms.
  • Setting clear use and cleaning guidance for toilets to ensure they are kept clean and social distancing is achieved as much as possible. 

Handling goods, merchandise and other materials, and onsite vehicles

Some of the steps that will usually be needed:

  • Cleaning procedures for the parts of shared equipment you touch after each use, thinking about equipment, tools and vehicles, for example, pallet trucks and forklift trucks.
  • Encouraging increased handwashing and introducing more handwashing facilities for workers handling goods and merchandise or providing hand sanitiser where this is not
  • practical.
  • Regular cleaning of vehicles that workers may take home.
  • Regular cleaning of reusable delivery boxes. 

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and face coverings

The evidence suggests that wearing a face covering does not protect you, but it may protect others if you are infected but have not developed symptoms.

A face covering can be very simple and may be worn in enclosed spaces where social distancing isn’t possible. It just needs to cover your mouth and nose.

Wearing a face covering is optional and is not required by law, including in the workplace. If you choose to wear one, it is important to use face coverings properly and wash your hands before putting them on and taking them off. Employers should support their workers in using face coverings safely if they choose to wear one. This means telling workers:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser before putting a face covering on, and after removing it.
  • When wearing a face covering, avoid touching your face or face covering, as you could contaminate them with germs from your hands.
  • Change your face covering if it becomes damp or if you’ve touched it.
  • Continue to wash your hands regularly.
  • Change and wash your face covering daily.
  • If the material is washable, wash in line with manufacturer’s instructions. If it’s not washable, dispose of it carefully in your usual waste.
  • Practise social distancing wherever possible.

Shift patterns and working groups

Some of the steps that will usually be needed:

  • As far as possible, where people are split into teams or shift groups, fixing these teams or shift groups so that where contact is unavoidable, this happens between the same people.
  • Identifying areas where people have to directly pass things to each other, for example, job information, spare parts, samples, raw materials, and find ways to remove direct contact, such as through the use of drop-off points or transfer zones. 
  • Minimising the number of people travelling together in any one vehicle, using fixed travel partners, increasing ventilation when possible and avoiding sitting face-to-face.
  • Cleaning shared vehicles between shifts or on handover. 
  • Putting in place procedures to minimise person-to-person contact during deliveries to other sites.
  • Maintaining consistent pairing where two-person deliveries are required.
  • Minimising contact during payments and exchange of documentation, for example, by using electronic payment methods and electronically signed and exchanged documents. 

Communications and Training

Some of the steps that will usually be needed:

  • Ongoing engagement with workers, including through trades unions or employee representative groups to monitor and understand any unforeseen impacts of changes to working
  • environments.
  • Awareness and focus on the importance of mental health at times of uncertainty. The government has published guidance on the mental health and wellbeing aspects of
  • coronavirus (COVID-19).
  • Using simple, clear messaging to explain guidelines using images and clear language, with consideration of groups for which English may not be their first language.
  • Using visual communications, for example, whiteboards or signage, to explain changes to production schedules, breakdowns or materials shortages to reduce the need for
  • face-to-face communications.
  • Communicating approaches and operational procedures to suppliers, customers or trade bodies to help their adoption Signage and to share experience. 

Inbound and outbound goods

Some of the steps that will usually be needed:

  • Revising pick-up and drop-off collection points, procedures, signage and markings.
  • Minimising unnecessary contact at gatehouse security, yard and warehouse. For example, non-contact deliveries where the nature of the product allows for use of electronic prebooking.
  • Considering methods to reduce frequency of deliveries, for example by ordering larger quantities less often.
  • Where possible and safe, having single workers load or unload vehicles.
  • Where possible, using the same pairs of people for loads where more than one is needed.
  • Enabling drivers to access welfare facilities when required, consistent with other guidance.
  • Encouraging drivers to stay in their vehicles where this does not compromise their safety and existing safe working practice, such as preventing drive-aways.


What others are doing

Each week, SHD will be providing examples of how operations across the industry are adapting to business during and after the pandemic:

Jon Ormond, operations director Hubs & Depots at Hermes, talks through his experience in adapting to work during the pandemic.
A team from Bibby Distribution used to picking, packing and distributing Perspex acrylic sheets has become part of the frontline effort to protect supermarket workers from contracting Coronavirus.
CFTS — the body behind the national standard of Thorough Examinations — has confirmed that owners and users of materials handling equipment must continue to book inspections, to ensure that it is safe to use. 


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